Louis Couttoupes is one of the most highly regarded chefs in Canberra at the moment, with awards like Gourmet Traveller’s Best Restaurant and a hat from The Good Food Guide Awards for his Kingston bistro Onzieme. Part of his success is down to the respect and care he shows to the ingredients sourced from Gollion Farm, run by friend Sam Vincent.
Sam is primarily a cattle farmer using regenerative farming practices to rejuvenate the landscape of his family property, but he also manages two orchards.
“There’s one that my parents planted many years ago with around 70 fruit trees, all different varieties. And then the other has about 100 black Genoa figs,” Sam told Region.
“So from late December when I bring in green walnuts to the end of May with the last of the apple varieties, I’m coming into Onzieme every week with whatever’s ripe.”
“Or unripe, in the case of the green walnuts,” Louis interjects.
“We just work through whatever is coming up,” he adds. “If there are new things Sam is trying that are giving their first crop we’ll give them a go.
“Sometimes things don’t work out if there are cockatoos or hail but we just work with the seasons and what’s happening on the farm in that particular year.”
The pair have been working together for many years now, since Sam started supplying fruit during Louis’s early years at Bar Rochford. The relationship has influenced the way they each work.
“It’s given me confidence that whatever is there I can find a home for it,” Sam said.
“It’s forced me to learn about new things, try new things and the most satisfying thing I’ve found working with Sam is that we can cook in ways we’ve always wanted to because there’s someone supporting us on the supply end,” Louis added.
While fruit is in season, Louis uses them across the menu, to make preserves, and also shares the bounty with his bar staff to create drinks and cocktails. One winning recipe they’ve enjoyed is a green walnut wine, a traditional French recipe known as vin de noix.
The pair is also investigating opportunities to make larger quantities of their liqueurs and drinks in order to sell takeaway bottles at the restaurant.
Working with abundant local produce has its challenges, though.
Louis explained that he sometimes needs to hold back from adding ripe blood plums to every single dish on the menu. And while Louis is currently able to take on most of Sam’s fruit, as he expands the fig orchard at Gollion he’ll need to find more buyers eventually.
Sam also says that the orchard is ultimately a less profitable part of his farm.
“Cattle is about 95 per cent of my income, but the orchard takes up maybe 40 per cent of my time. But I do really love it!”
Ultimately, using local produce and working with local people is at the core of what Louis wants to do at Onzieme, and they hope that this relationship will act as inspiration for other Canberra restaurants to focus on locally grown produce.